Jefferson Island & Rip Van Winkle Gardens

November 29, 2018

When we arrived we were greeted by the resident peacocks. One even posed for us on the roof of the welcome sign.

Given the time of year (late November) we were not surprised that few plants were in bloom. In fact the staff was busy clearing out the plant beds and prepping the soil for the next planting with mulch mixed with manure. Still we had an enjoyable experience.

Jefferson Island is not really an island but a gigantic salt dome whose salt was deposited more than 165 million years ago. Jefferson Island rises about 50 feet above the surrounding area. That qualifies it as a mountain in these parts.

We interrupt this tour to bring you breaking news…

Being a history geek, I paid special attention to an incident that occurred on November 20, 1980. An oil rig contracted by Texaco was drilling an exploratory well in Lake Peigneur when the drill accidently broke into the Diamond Crystal Salt Company’s salt dome. The opening created by that 14-inch drill bit started a catastrophic chain reaction.

The opening acted as a drain and the lake was sucked into the salt mine. The water dissolved the salt, expanded the size of the hole, and quickly began to fill the caverns. The resultant whirlpool – think about how a tub drains only bigger, much, much bigger – sucked in the drilling platform, eleven barges, many trees, and 65 acres of surrounding terrain. So much water was sucked into the mine that the Delcambre Canal, which normally flows from the lake into Vermilion Bay, began to run backward, sucking water into the lake from the bay. Air displaced by the water created 400-foot geysers. Amazingly no lives were lost.

An investigation showed that Texaco used an incorrect or misinterpreted coordinate reference system to position the drill. In layman’s terms, they screwed up, big time. Texaco and the drilling contractors paid a total of almost $45 million to settle several lawsuits.

Now back to our regularly scheduled tour…

The Balinese Gateway shown below was custom carved in the town of Batubulan on the island of Bali, Indonesia. The town is famous for its stone carvers. The gateway serves as a background for wedding ceremonies. The gateway faces west. The couple walks toward the east and the rising sun. After the wedding, the couple enters the gateway and begins their new life. The guardians at the gate prevent past lives from following them. Seated guardians behind the gate discourage them from returning to a single life.

Balinese Gateway

Take a close look at a guardian. Would you want to mess with the couple or run away from your spouse and risk tangling with that dude? Just asking.


We took an excellent tour of the Joseph Jefferson house which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house was built in 1870 by Joseph Jefferson who at that time was one of the most famous actors in the United States. He was born into a family of actors, beginning his stage career at four. He was best known for his stage portrayal of Rip van Winkle. He played van Winkle in over 4,500 stage performances as well as in several silent movie versions.

Joseph Jefferson house

As with most home tours, picture-taking was not permitted so I can’t show you any interior shots. One interesting feature of the house was the cupola which can be seen at the top center of the home. Holes in each floor’s ceiling led up to the cupola. When the doors or windows were open, air would be drawn into the house, up the holes, and out through the cupola. This was supposed to help cool the house.

When Joseph Jefferson died, his heirs sold the house to John Lyle Bayless, Sr. His son John Lyle Bayless, Jr. developed Rip Van Winkle Gardens. He also donated the gardens and 800 acres to a foundation he created in 1978 to preserve and protect the property. The current owner, Mike Richard, purchased the property in 2006.

Even though the gardens weren’t at their peak, you can still get an idea of how beautiful they can be.

Garden path

There are statues, ponds, and fountains sprinkled throughout the gardens.

Lion fountain

They definitely had some interesting plants, even if they didn’t have flowers. Holly liked this blue bamboo.

Blue bamboo

We ate lunch at the café. The food was excellent and the prices were very reasonable.

We stopped at Rip’s Rookery to see if there were any birds around. At first it seemed there were more gators than birds. We saw this little guy basking in the sun.

Baby gator

We (cautiously) circled the pond and finally found a few of our feathered friends.

Snowy egrets…I think


This entry was posted in History, Nature Notes, Restaurants, Walking Tours and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Jefferson Island & Rip Van Winkle Gardens

  1. Pingback: Deep South Texas | Spirit of the Woods

  2. Dawn says:

    What a great site you have – many thanks for all your efforts. Just purchased a Phoenix 2552 ourselves and am wondering if you have anything in your archives that I can read – about where you put all your stuff. I’m trying to pack for an extended trip with a one month stop in between and husband and I are already flummoxed as to where we should put our shoes, where’s the best place for the pots, plates, etc. We’ve only spent 3 days at the most in it so far and didn’t cook, etc. I’ve spent time in there imagining I’m cooking but I’m overwhelmed. We have the same set up as you with one bedroom cabinet door reversed and shelved installed inside and am just curious as to what works for you.
    If that’s being too nosy, ignore me 🙂
    Thanks again for such a great blog (not too knowledgeable on the terms – is that what this site it?)

  3. What a lovely place…and that residence!

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